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A study checklist for Business Studies

By Danielle Barakat on 10 June 2020HSIENSWblogHSCStudy tipsExam advice

We have had a few questions lately about the best way to study for business studies in year 12. This time of year is tricky because, for the most part, there aren’t many exams. Instead, you’re probably facing a couple of weeks of hand in assessments, so you’re probably not thinking about ‘studying’ in the traditional sense, but rather spending time researching and putting together an extended response or problem question answer. Don’t get me wrong, this should be the focus at the moment if you have something due, so keep it up 💪.

But, the thing is, once you’re done with this term – you still have to worry about next term and term 3 is a big one because most of you will either sit trial exams or internal school exams. Either way, you need to be able to put this term’s woes aside and get back to studying and making sure you’re ready to go when the time comes. Getting started early ensures that you’ve given yourself enough time to learn and understand the course properly, and it’s a great way to ensure your stress levels stay manageable throughout next term.

So here is a checklist of things to focus on when you start studying for business studies again (this is a bit of a long one, but stick with me – it’s worth it!):

1. Make sure you are defining your key terms in your answer

Business Studies is one of those straightforward subjects in terms of having set definitions for most of the concepts you’ll come across. Don’t take this for granted! Instead start incorporating these definitions into your study notes, and then into your responses. With Business, you have to pretend as though whoever is reading your response has no knowledge of business terms. So, one of the great tricks of the trade is being able to incorporate a clear definition of the key terms of the question into your answer (whilst still answering the question too).

A great way to improve on this is to create a glossary of key terms and definitions in your notes. Have a list of your key terms, whether it be supply chain management, liquidity, profitability or market segmentation, and write a clear, precise definition of what those things actually are. That way when you’re attempting past paper questions you can have that list there, and you’ll get used to putting this definition at the start of your answer. Once you’ve stated what it is, the next step should be explaining how it’s relevant to the question and how it is relevant to the case study. Which brings me to my next point…

2. Have relevant case studies up your sleeve and ready to use!

Business Studies is based on real-life examples and showing the marker that you know how these concepts would work in a real business. That’s why you want to have a collection of case studies up your sleeve, ready to whip out in any answer on any topic. This might seem daunting at first, but it doesn’t have to be if you are prepared and get this done before your exam whilst you’re studying, rather than on the spot on exam day.

Whether they ask for an example or not, the markers are expecting that students are able to apply real-life scenarios to the question so even if it’s not asked for, include it anyway. They don’t have to be very long – even if it’s 2 lines, it’s worth it! Another tip is that they don’t have to be actual real-life businesses. Using real examples is good to demonstrate to the marker that you’ve been watching the news and have engaged with business outside of just school but you can always make up a hypothetical business too. Call it what you want – as long as the scenario makes logical sense and appropriately fits the topic.

If the question gives you a scenario then there’s no need to use your own case (unless you want to make comparisons and do some extra analysis) but in this case, it’s crucial that you refer to the business they have given you. Be sure to use the names of the people, the name of the business, the figures and facts they give you. If you don’t mention the scenario you will not get the marks.

3. Learn your financial ratios and what they actually mean

This one is probably one of the most important items on the checklist. You need to learn your financial ratios inside and out, and then learn what they actually mean! It’s important to understand what the formula is representing in the real world of business, what those ratios indicate about the relationship between X and Y and of course, how these ratios affect real-life business. Being able to understand the real-life application of financial ratios will help you remember how to use them in your exam scenarios.


So let’s look at how this would realistically work. Let’s take the expense ratio (Total Expenses/Sales) which measures the amount of revenue that is used to pay for the running expenses in a business. So things like wages, rent, admin, etc.

We are going to use Atomi as our case study example here. Atomi ran their financial ratios and realised that their expense ratio was extremely high, say 4:1.

What does this mean?

This means that Atomi is spending 4x the amount that they’re making in revenue, reducing the amount of profit being made by the business 😥. In order to fix this (make it better for the business), management would have to reduce some expenses or increase their sales by at least 4x. For Atomi, it would be a quicker and easier fix to decrease the top of that ratio (Total expenses).

How do they do that?

They could do this by reducing their rent by moving to a smaller or cheaper office, maybe something outside of Sydney CBD. Or they could cut down on office snacks (leaving employees very unhappy), saving money on their monthly credit card statements.

These methods would ultimately decrease expenses and hopefully, change that ratio so the sales are bigger than the expenses in the company.

4. Perfect your business report writing skills

Use this time to study to perfect your report writing skills because at the end of the day you know this is going to appear in the exam and that it’s going to be worth around 20 marks of your external exam at the end of the year. That’s a pretty sizable chunk, so time to focus on it a little more. You need to make sure you understand exactly how a business report is different from an essay or other report writing subjects, and you need to know how to present your answer in the right way.

In a standard NSW Bussines exam the question usually includes a list of key outcomes that the question is hoping to assess you on, so we are going to go through each of these to explain what you need to be doing in your answers to tick these off. They’ll look something like this:

1. Demonstrate knowledge and understanding relevant to the question

This is essentially saying that you need to follow the instructions of the question. If they ask you to evaluate a pricing strategy, make sure you suggest a recommended strategy and how effective it would be, identify its strengths and limitations. This outcome is also telling you to know and understand your key glossary terms or cognitive verbs, what they mean and what they expect from you in an answer. Luckily we now have videos on this in our new Study Skills subject if you need a refresher.

2. Apply the hypothetical business situation

This outcome is very self-explanatory and fits in well with my checklist point number 2. Use the hypothetical in your answer, and in doing so, be as specific as you can. Avoid general references to ‘the business’ or ‘the owner’. Instead, use the business name and names of the employees that the scenario has given you. So say ‘Danielle’s Diner needs to reduce expenses…’ or ‘Atomi Education should incorporate…’. This level of specificity is the aim of the game. And if they ask you to make recommendations in the instructions then use phrases that clearly show that you are doing this, for example ‘it is recommended that Rob, the CEO of Atomi Education…’ or ‘Danielle, the manager is advised to do…’.

3. Communicate using relevant business terminology and concepts

Here is where my first checklist point comes into play. The markers want to make sure that you understand the business terminology and concepts, and know when and how to use them. They also want to know that you understand what the terminology means, rather than just name dropping to make yourself sound smart. That’s why providing definitions, and linking those terms back to the question is so important, they’re literally assessing you on your ability to do that. So for example, think about where you’d be able to use the terminology as opposed to plain English: instead of saying ‘Atomi Education uses other people to complete tasks,’ say ‘Atomi Education outsources tasks.’ Simple yet effective!

4. Present a sustained, logical and cohesive response in the form of a business report

This point is referring to the structure of the task. They’re telling you they want a business report so do not bring them an essay, or a list of recommendations or a short answer style response. They want a full-on business studies report. So, what should this look like? Here is the standard structure of a business report:

  • Title
  • Introduction
  • Executive summary
  • Body paragraphs with headings
  • Conclusion

I know there is some debate on whether the Intro goes before or after the Exec Summary but here is our recommendation. Double-check this with your teacher though because if you are sitting internal school exams, they’ll be the ones marking the paper so do the structure that they’re looking for. It shouldn’t matter which goes first though, as long as they’re both there!

5. Learn how to answer an interdependence question

If you're in NSW, this one always seems to make an appearance either in an internal exam or assessment or in the external exam, so be prepared to answer it. If you don’t know what interdependence means, it’s time to take another look at the good old syllabus!

In each of the four topics in business studies, there is going to be a syllabus dot point that says ‘interdependence with other key business functions’. It’s a pretty easy dot point to overlook, but let me tell you – that will be one of the biggest mistakes you will make this year!

This dot point basically means that your four topics: operations, marketing, finance and HR all work together and affect each other. You shouldn’t just study marketing on its own, you should also be thinking about how marketing works with, impacts, or is impacted by HR, finance and operations. This is important because understanding the way the different functions work together gives you much better context for the topic and all the different pieces of the subject will start to come together. Knowing how to relate the four topics is crucial to your understanding of business studies, and it impacts how well you’re going to do this year.

I would recommend drawing mind maps for this and linking things together from different topics. For example, let’s go back to our financial ratio question from earlier. Another way we could reduce expenses on the business would be to lower wages, so fire people. But this wouldn’t just affect finance, this would also affect HR as they’re responsible for hiring and firing, it would also impact operations because now you’ve lost a person who was making your product. Can the operations process afford to lose someone from their team or will this slow production down too much? See – it’s all connected! So rather than trying to think of this on the spot in the exam, spend some time going through your notes and creating some really nice interdependence sample answers and scenarios.


If you have hand-in assessments at the moment then focus on them. This is your checklist for when you have nothing to do and figure ‘why not study business studies’. This checklist isn’t everything you have to do for business studies, but it’s a good starting point to make sure what you’re doing is going to improve your marks and prepare you for exams. Go back through the syllabus, make sure all your content is up to scratch and then go from there. Happy studying!

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